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Another area where ignorance of Japanese holographic thinking has led to Western misinterpretation is in the so-called aesthetic of minimalism.
Once we are attuned to the holographic paradigm it becomes clear that Japanese minimalism is not about eliminating the extraneous or omitting the unnecessary, but rather as in the case of the forensic scientist about focusing on the particular as revealing the whole from which it was taken.
If we recall that the Japanese work of art is the creative presentation of the kokoro the total interactive field that generates the artist, medium, and audience as a single event then what is normally considered in the West to be the work of art is that precise point in the kokoro through which we can experience the configuration of the whole of the kokoro.
Japanese minimalism does not exclude or eliminate; by focusing on the particular it enables us to attend to the whole aesthetic event that produces it and of which it is a part.
To the discerning reader, the haiku with its meager seventeen syllables omits nothing; rather, it is holographic of the whole. This adversarial form of argumentation, including its rarefied form known as the reductio ad absurdum , is common in Indian philosophy as well and was introduced to Japan via Buddhism more than a millennium prior to any Western influence.
Very often in Japanese philosophical debates, the contenders compete in trying to absorb rather than refute the opposition.
It is important, therefore, to notice how allocation, relegation, and hybridization can help a philosophical theory gain dominance in the Japanese milieu.
Allocation is the most compromising form of philosophical assimilation. Two opposing views are accepted without major alteration but conflict is avoided by restricting each to its own clearly defined disjunctive domain.
Relegation assimilates an opposing view by conceding its truth even while subordinating that truth to being only a partial component of the original, now more inclusive, position.
Usually the rhetoric is that the apparently opposing view is not really something new at all, but has always been part of the original theory, albeit perhaps not previously emphasized as such.
As in allocation, the position of the other is fully accepted but in this case only as an incomplete part of the whole picture which, it is demonstrated, the original theory has contained all along or at least could ex post facto be interpreted so.
Of course, the rhetoric aside, a close analysis often reveals that the original theory actually expands its comprehensiveness to incorporate the competing one, but the end result is the same: the rival ideas are assimilated by being relegated to a subordinated place within the whole, thereby losing their force as an independent theory that can oppose the winning position.
Hybridization is a third form of assimilation that leaves neither the original theory nor its opposing rival theory intact. Instead, through their cross-pollination something completely new is born.
A hybrid presents us with a new species of philosophy and although we can do a genealogy of its parentage, it cannot unlike the cases of allocation or relegation ever return to its earlier opposing forms.
If we consider a biological hybrid like a boysenberry, which has a genetic parentage traceable to a loganberry and a raspberry, we cannot find the loganberry or the raspberry intact in the boysenberry.
Once the hybrid is created, we cannot undo the crossbreeding; there are now three distinct species of berries. Analogously, in the process of philosophical assimilation, when true philosophical hybrids emerge, historians of philosophy may be able to uncover their genealogies, but the theories themselves can no longer be deconstructed back into their parental origins.
Next let us examine how Japanese philosophers use those forms of analysis in developing five originally distinct sources of philosophical ideas.
Three major philosophical sources have fed into Japanese thought since ancient times up through the present, two additional ones being added in modern times that is, post As such it largely resembled religions in ancient animistic and shamanistic cultures found elsewhere in the world.
Specifically, the material and spiritual were internally related so as to form a continuous field wherein the human and the natural, both animate and inanimate, were in an interactional, even communicative relation.
Although human interactions with kami might be either beneficial or harmful, there was no duality or conflict between good and evil forces.
Even within human affairs wrongdoing was generally a violation or transgression of a taboo, regardless of whether the acts were accidental or intentional.
Since criminality or sin was not a major consideration, the proper response was not so much guilt, repentance, or rehabilitation, but instead ritual purification.
Spiritual and political leadership shared a common charisma allowing the political leader to serve sacerdotal roles in rituals that brought the community benefits and warded off danger.
The rituals, often shamanistic in character, mediated the fluid boundaries between the heavens, this world, and the underworld as well as the realms of the animate, inanimate, human, and natural.
Indeed because of that reciprocity, one might say the world is not simply what we engage, but also something that engages us. As we define it, it also defines us.
Nothing is ever simply material without somehow also having some spirituality; nothing is ever simply spiritual without somehow also having some materiality.
This type of genesis narrative also supports an understanding that every part of the physical world holographically reflects the pattern of spiritual creativity on a cosmic level.
In the final analysis, reality is not a world of discrete things connected to each other, but more a field of which we are part a field often expressed by the indigenous word kokoro.
This form of relation applies to the word-reality relation as well. In those incantations the sounds of the words were, as in magical cultures elsewhere in the world, thought to have special efficacy beyond the simple semantic meaning.
Koto was a term for both word and thing suggesting that words had the spiritual power tama to evoke, and not simply refer to, a preexisting reality.
For example, the expansion of Christianity with its Greco-Roman philosophical analyses drove underground many older animistic cultures such as the Druids in the British Isles.
When the major philosophical traditions from continental Asia entered Japan, by contrast, they did not take an oppositional stance toward the world view already in place within the archipelago.
The impulse to philosophize in an organized fashion came to Japan in waves from continental Asia: China, Korea, and indirectly India.
Previously illiterate, in the fifth century or so the Japanese started developing a writing system, using at first the Chinese language for its base.
Because Japanese and Chinese are linguistically unrelated and differ both syntactically and phonetically, it took centuries for a Japanese writing system to evolve out of the Chinese sinographs, in the meantime making Chinese the de facto written language.
For the most part, however, its influence was most obvious in the alchemical arts, prognostication, and as a resource for occasional literary references.
Admittedly, in the medieval period some Daoist philosophical references appear in the language of the arts, especially in theories of creativity, but they occur mainly within a Zen Buddhist context.
That is likely because before coming to Japan, Chinese Zen Chan had already assimilated many Daoist ideas.
In contrast with Daoism, however, Confucianism and Buddhism maintained a presence throughout Japanese history as independent philosophical currents of philosophy.
Of the two, we consider Confucianism first. See also the entry on Japanese Confucian Philosophy. As the second fountainhead of Japanese philosophy, Confucianism entered the country as a literary tradition from China and Korea beginning around the sixth and seventh centuries.
By then it already enjoyed a sophisticated continental philosophical heritage well over a millennium old. That is not to say, however, that Confucianism did not continue to remain influential in its emphasis on scholarship, the definition of hierarchical social roles, and general models of virtue.
From the time of their introduction into Japan, Confucian political, social, and ethical ideals quickly transformed the structure of Japanese society.
From the seventh century, texts traditionally associated with Confucianism served as the core curriculum in the imperial academy for the education of courtiers and bureaucratic officials.
Politically, Confucian ideology gave a sophisticated justification for an imperial state. But Confucianism added to the Japanese context a rich description of political and social roles that organized the society into a harmonious network of interdependent offices and groups.
Confucianism defined a place for each person and a set of shifting roles and contexts to be performed with ritual decorum.
Once again, it was not a matter of moral mandates about good vs. Furthermore, as it became aware of the high cultural achievements of its Korean and Chinese neighbors, Japan could use Confucianism to participate in the East Asian cultural sphere defined by China and the prestige accompanying that membership.
One striking exception to the adoption of the standard Confucian political philosophy was that the Japanese ignored the principle of the mandate of heaven tianming in Chinese that was central to the Chinese Confucian ideology of the state.
In China the authority of the emperor flowed from a celestial entitlement or command, a mandate that could be withdrawn if the emperor no longer acted in accord with the Way dao or cosmic pattern tianli.
Like a blood connection, all Japanese and the kami were, through the emperor, internally related with each other such that the connections among them could not be nullified.
The analysis was that society can be construed as constructed out of five binary relations: ruler-subject, parent-child, husband-wife, senior-junior, and friend-friend.
An implication of the Confucian view of role-based ideals is that the sharp separation between the descriptive and the prescriptive collapses.
There is theoretically no gap between knowing what a parent or a ruler, or a husband … is and the role that person should perform.
Thus, Confucianism can be understood as a type of ethico-political utopianism, but it is emphatically insistent that it is based neither in speculation nor rationalistic theory, but in historical paradigm.
It follows that the Way to become ethically and politically accomplished is to study the classics and to model oneself after the ancient paradigms of the roles exemplified by the sages of the past.
The third major fountainhead feeding into Japanese philosophy from ancient to contemporary times has been Buddhism. With origins in India going back to the fifth century bce , Buddhist philosophy like Confucianism entered Japan via Korea and China in the sixth and seventh centuries.
In contrast with Confucianism, however, by the end of the eighth century Buddhism emerged as the major focus of Japanese creative philosophical development as imported Chinese Buddhist schools of thought were modified and new Japanese schools developed.
Buddhism continued its intellectual dominance until the seventeenth century, then making way for the second wave of Confucian ideas that better suited the newly risen urbanized, secular society under the control of the Tokugawa shoguns.
With notable exceptions, in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries Buddhist intellectuals retreated from philosophical innovation to focus on institutional development, textual studies, and sectarian histories.
When Western philosophy surged into modern Japan and its newly established secular universities, some influential Japanese philosophers saw Buddhist ideas as the best premodern resource for synthesis with Western thought.
In some cases that entailed reformulating traditional Buddhist ideas in light of Western philosophical categories.
In other cases, philosophers used allocation, relegation, or hybridization to create new systems that tried to assimilate Western ideas while maintaining aspects of traditional Japanese values.
There were, however, a few nearly universally accepted Buddhist themes that resonated well with the Japanese preliterate context and have continued to influence major lines of Japanese thinking throughout its history.
First is the Buddhist claim that reality consists of a flow of interdependent, conditioned events rather than independent, substantially existent things.
Nothing exists in and of itself and there is no unchanging reality behind the world of flux. Moreover, within the variety of Buddhist schools introduced into Japan by the eighth century, there were further resources that could philosophically justify and elaborate what had been rather inchoate assumptions of pre-Buddhist Japan.
Kegon gave it a philosophical articulation and justification. Still, according to Buddhism, despite the lack of ontological illusions, we ordinarily almost never access reality as it is because we project on it psychological delusions fueled by habituated stimulus-response systems based in ignorance, repulsion, and desire.
As a result, a major theme in Buddhist philosophy is to understand the bodymind mechanisms of the inner self or consciousness, to recognize how our emotions, ideas, mental states, and even philosophical assumptions color our perceptions of reality.
The problem is not illusions within reality, but the self-delusions we mistake for reality. Buddhism brought to Japan not only an awareness of the inner dynamics of experience, but also a collection of epistemological, psychological, ethical, hermeneutic, and metaphysical bodymind theories and practices aimed at understanding and eradicating those delusions.
Without those delusions our bodymind would be in accord with the way things are and we could live without the anguish created by trying to live in a concocted reality we desire instead of reality as it is.
Every volitional thought, word, or deed has an impact on the bodymind system such that present actions lead to propensities for future actions within that system.
Furthermore, karma is Janus-headed in its causality such that those present actions are also in part conditioned by previous volitional actions as well.
The result is that I affect my surrounding conditions even as those surrounding conditions are affecting me. Thus, the Buddhist theory of karmic action implies a field of interresponsive agency that is paradoxically both individuated and systemic, both volitional and conditioned.
That paradigm has raised a number of issues and generated multiple theories by Japanese Buddhist ethical and social philosophers through the centuries.
The fourth major source of Japanese philosophy, the first of the two additional ones to enter modern Japan, has been the aforementioned influx of Western philosophy into the universities.
As tetsugaku, Western philosophy became a standard discipline in the newly established Japanese universities designed on Western models.
The philosophy courses, like most other subjects of Western origin, were initially taught by Westerners, mainly professors from Germany and the United States who came to Japan to teach the discipline in their native languages.
Then after completing training in philosophy at the Imperial University Tokyo Imperial University was the first, then several others were added in other major cities around Japan , the most promising students were sometimes sent abroad to the West for further study, after which time they could assume professorships back home.
Thus, as in other academic fields, philosophers in Japan were groomed in Western studies from their early teenage years until their mid- or late twenties.
As a result, their philosophical education was truly global in scope. Although Roman Catholic Christian thought was introduced by missionaries in the fifteenth century, it had a short-lived influence of about a century before it was banned as part of the closure of Japan to almost all foreign contact.
Hence, the first strong and lasting impact of Western philosophy came in the late nineteenth century. Although its impact has been broad and difficult to summarize, a few key points are especially noteworthy.
First, in the two or three centuries preceding the modern period, Confucianism and its secular academies dominated the philosophical scene.
Since Confucian philosophy placed a premium on the mastery of classic historical texts and given the etymology of the neologism tetsugaku, it is probably not surprising that the study of the history of Western thought was one pillar of the Japanese philosophy curriculum.
Many young philosophers could read the original texts in English, German, or French and sometimes also in Greek or Latin.
For a wider audience, there was a major publication effort to translate major Western philosophical works into Japanese. Mill, for example.
In the long run, however, German philosophy, especially German idealism had the most lasting and deep influence.
This was partly a fortuitous connection brought about by the close association formed in the late nineteenth century between Tokyo Imperial University and Germany.
Not only were some key early foreign professors at Tokyo from Germany, but also Germany became the favored location for sending Japanese philosophy students for foreign study.
Another factor was the modernization strategy of Japanese government and intellectual leadership.
To modernize as quickly as possible, a Western country was identified as the model to emulate for each academic field. For example, for medicine and physics, Germany was the target; for government bureaucracy, France; for agricultural science and public education for school children, the United States.
Once the decision was made, urgency made it difficult to change direction. And Germany was chosen for philosophy. In that context even more than Plato or Descartes, Kant was considered the key figure for the founding of tetsugaku.
A contributing factor in that cult of death may have been the emphasis on the death of the ego-self in Zen Buddhism, a locution used by Rinzai Zen masters in training unemployed samurai who joined the monastery during the centuries of the Tokugawa peace.
Added to those native influences was the imported nineteenth-century European ideologies of ethnic virtue, the purity of a given race of people as constituting the basis for a nation state.
Ideologically it claimed to have been a philosophy of the Japanese people harking back to ancient times but its parentage is clearly nineteenth century.
Because of its hybridity, however, its history was occluded and its tenets were couched in terms deemed traditional but often given nuances they had not had previously.
In an important sense it is not at all a philosophical stream comparable to the others, but its impact should not be overlooked because it did affect the flow and the stagnation of the other streams for the first half of the twentieth century.
That brings us to an overview of the eddies and cross-currents of the five streams in Japanese history. Chinese laws served as models and Buddhist texts and teachers continued to flow into Japan.
Buddhist practice, especially for intensive periods, was often performed in mountain temple retreats in natural settings rather than in the city.
Although both traditions originated in China, they assumed distinctively comprehensive Japanese forms that would set the trajectory of Buddhist philosophy in Japan for centuries to come.
The esoteric involves an interpersonal engagement between the cosmos the activity of patterned, self-structuring resonances called Dainichi Buddha and the Shingon practitioner who is a bodymind holographically inscribed with the same pattern as the cosmos.
So an exoteric philosophy, even if it knows about engagement, cannot ground its own theory in an engaged way because it depends on external relations even to express itself.
It is, in effect, a theory about bodymind unity that is based only in the mind. He analyzed all the philosophical standpoints known to him into a hierarchy of the ten mindsets producing them, starting from the base level of narcissistic philosophy driven by animal impulses, up through the mindsets of Confucianism, Daoism, and continuing in the hierarchy through all the Buddhist schools existing in Japan at the time.
That, in turn, leads to an understanding that the self must be relational, a fundamental assumption of the Confucian mindset found in level two.
That is, even the egoism of narcissism, upon examination, assumes a relational self of the sort that is the point of departure for a Confucian analysis.
Thus a lack of foundation in mindset one opens to the prospect of mindset two. Yet, its own theory implies the knower cannot be independent of the known, nor the mind from the body.
That opens the door to a praxis of engagement that is the basis for the esoteric mindset level ten. Whereas a philosophy based in metaphysical theory can never establish its own ground, a philosophy based in an engaged bodymind praxis can produce its ground as surely as, we might say, the understanding of the master potter is produced in a masterful work of pottery.
Whereas the exoteric philosopher, using detachment and assuming external relations between self and reality, presents truth as ideas linking those two relatents, the esoteric philosopher engages self and reality in an internal relation, presenting truth as a unified bodymind performance of thought, word, and deed.
First, he firmly entrenched a preference for internal and holographic relations. Second, he demonstrated that a strong philosophical position should not only be able to show weaknesses in other positions but also, if it is truly comprehensive, it should be able to explain how such an error or misunderstanding could occur.
In other words assimilation through relegation is a stronger position than simple refutation because it takes opposing theories as real theories deserving a place within any all-inclusive account of reality.
Third, a way to evaluate a new philosophical position is to try to understand the mindset that produced it. That methodological strategy would be especially helpful as Japanese philosophers encountered new theories from other cultures.
At first borrowing from Shingon, Tendai soon evolved its own form of esotericism with additional input from emissaries sent to China for further training.
Since Tendai was already the most comprehensive form of exoteric teaching in Japan, when mated with esotericism, it became the most inclusive and comprehensive system of philosophy and praxis in the country.
As a result, by the end of the classical period the monastic center on Mt Hiei emerged as the premier site of monastic education and philosophical training.
For the lay aristocrats, the Heian court of Kyoto was the hub for the classical study of both Chinese and Japanese arts and letters, becoming a fertile ground for aesthetic theories, some of which were borrowed from China, but others emerging from more native sensitivities.
As the classical period drew to a close, however, the cloistered worlds of the monastery and the Heian court would come under attack and philosophical innovation would need to find new contexts.
The medieval period witnessed the destabilization of the social, political, and religious order. To protect its vulnerable position, it centered its operations in Kamakura, leaving the court and the emperor in Kyoto.
The political instability and the attendant economic upheaval were exacerbated by an unusually devastating period of natural disasters, pestilence, and famine.
When personal survival was at stake, the complex theories and practices of Shingon and Tendai Buddhism were of little solace to most people.
See the entry on Japanese Pure Land Philosophy, section 3. As a Tendai philosopher, however, he recognized one teaching that could lead to a new philosophical approach, namely, the holographic paradigm of the whole-in-every-part.
Tendai had used it to go from simplicity to reveal ever greater levels of complexity, but might it now also be reversed?
Could it not be used to pare complexity down to a minimal particularity that would still be all-inclusive?
The key would not be to set out to embrace the whole, but instead to select one thing——one practice, one teaching, one text—and to focus on that, realizing that by the holographic paradigm ultimately nothing would be lost.
By engaging a properly selected single teaching or practice, one does not abandon the holistic view but instead discovers it as inscribed in that particular.
That philosophical modus operandi became the guiding principle for all three of the major branches of Kamakura-period philosophies: Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren.
Selection involves a decision about what to select and a methodology for engaging the selection as a single bodymind focus.
For Nichiren — , the creator of the Nichiren School, the despair of the Degenerate Age was again a consideration, but in his interpretation, the second half of the Lotus Sutra was written specifically for those times and should be the sole focus of selection.
As a result, he selected a single practice he considered central to all Buddhist traditions from the outset: the state of bodymind achieved in seated meditation zazen under the guidance of a master.
See the entry on Japanese Zen Buddhist Philosophy. The biographies of the Kamakura philosophers suggest that most often their selection process arose from a sudden intuition, or a statement from an inspiring text or teacher, after a frustrating period of trial and error.
So they devised ex post facto philosophical justifications for their choices, often explaining how their new selective teachings and methods were consistent with tradition and demonstrating, by using a holographic argument, that nothing significant was really being omitted from the orthodox tradition.
The situation resulted in some of the most creative medieval theories of metaphysics, philosophical anthropology, and philosophies about the structures of experience.
In such cases the model of faith is one of internal relations and immersion in immanence rather than one of external relations and faith in a transcendent reality.
Kasulis , — One benefit of the Kamakura innovations was that their singular practices were readily accessible to anyone, even the uneducated.
Over the centuries, the Kamakura New Religions gradually became the most popular forms of Buddhism in Japan. At the same time, the philosophical justifications for those minimalized practices, the metapraxes, were often highly sophisticated and have continued to attract the further reflection of some of the best philosophical minds in Japan over the centuries.
With the decline of the cloistered Heian court, the nature of Japanese aesthetics underwent a change as dramatic as that of religious philosophies.
The reestablishment of relations with China precipitated an economic boom and revival of the Chinese-influenced arts in the capital, but the prosperity was short-lived.
Triggered by a dispute over shogunal succession, open warfare broke out in Kyoto, ultimately involving most of the major regional military lords from around the country.
Upon returning to their home regions, local wars continued and the entire country entered the Period of Warring Domains, lasting for over a century.
See the entry on Japanese Aesthetics, sections 3—5. The Edo period marked a time of relative peace and stability under the Tokugawa shogunate following the unification of the country by a sequence of three hegemons: Oda Nobunaga — , Toyotomi Hideyoshi — , and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu — Most of the unification occurred at the hands of Nobunaga with Hideyoshi as his chief general.
With the Portuguese and Spanish ships came Roman Catholic missionaries. The hegemons at times welcomed the Christians as informants about the West and as foils against Buddhism, but at other times, viciously persecuted them as potential threats in turning the people against the new political order in favor a foreign God.
In the end, Christianity was banned from the country entirely with most finality after the closure of Japan to almost all Western contact after Therefore, although Christianity enjoyed some initial success in its number of conversions, its overall impact was limited.
Formal polemical debates with Buddhists did introduce some new lines of argument to Japan especially concerning creation, afterlife, and teleology.
The major philosophical innovation of the Edo period would not be Christianity but rather a new form of Confucianism. With their skills in Chinese language, their general knowledge of Chinese culture, and their intermittent personal contacts in China, Rinzai Zen Buddhist monks often served as advisers about China to the medieval shoguns.
Yet, for the most part, the Rinzai monks had lost touch with Confucian movements in China through much of the medieval era and were surprised to discover in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that since the eleventh century totally new forms of Chinese Confucianism had developed, what is called in the West neo-Confucianism.
That neo-Confucianism included comprehensive philosophical systems that had incorporated ideas and practices from Buddhism and Daoism, relegating them into subordinate places within its own philosophy.
The Confucianism in Japan that was a legacy from the ancient period barely touched on metaphysical, epistemological, and psychological issues and had hardly mentioned themes related to nature, art, and creativity.
Hence, up to the Edo period, Japanese philosophers had turned to Buddhism to address those themes.
The newly imported neo-Confucianism, however, had assimilated enough Buddhist and Daoist ideas that it could address a full complement of philosophical problems in a single comprehensive system.
When the second hegemon, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, brought prisoners of war to Japan from his failed attempt to conquer Korea in the late sixteenth century, included in the group were some Korean officials who were also scholars of Chinese neo-Confucianism.
Rinzai Zen monks became disciples and soon Japan had its own emergent schools of neo-Confucianism, a phenomenon the Tokugawa shogunate would welcome.
Hoping to centralize the government by building up large urban centers, the shogunate believed Confucianism could support its aims.
First, compared with Buddhism and Christianity, Confucianism in Japan was basically secular and unlike Buddhism had no preexisting institutional networks to conciliate.
Perhaps it could work again. Lastly, Confucian academies could serve the new urban, literate, and mercantile culture the shogunate was envisioning.
By the end of the seventeenth century, the home of the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo present-day Tokyo had grown from a fishing village to a metropolis larger than any city in Europe, while Kyoto and Osaka were each close to the size of Paris.
A nationwide economy flourished by means of a a network of roads and waterways accompanied by a system of mercantile laws with a unified monetary system.
Literacy soared as the publication industry boomed. The effect on philosophy was profound as its center of activity shifted from the Buddhist temples to secular urban academies supported by student tuition.
This commodification of knowledge led to sharp competition among schools of thought, fueling an array of new philosophies, each purporting to be an improvement on what was available elsewhere.
See the entry on Japanese Confucian Philosophy, section 3. A major theme across many varieties of Edo-period Confucianism was a focus on language.
As mentioned above in the discussion of the fundamental ideas of Confucian philosophy, a basic assumption is that an understanding of a term for a human relation entails a recognition of how that relation should be enacted.
To know fully what the term friend means, for example, is to know how a friend ought to act. That is the principle of the trueing up of terms, or the rectification of names.
Previous to the Edo period in Japan that was about as far as the analysis went. With the expanded range of issues addressed in the new forms of Confucianism, however, the question was whether that same principle could be applied beyond the five binary human relations.
For example, do the essential meanings of terms like human nature, mind, harmony, principle, or learning also entail normative behaviors?
To what extent do words have individual meanings and to what extent is there a core of terms that are in internal relation to each other that can be understood only together?
And so forth. Such themes became the center of attention in the Confucian academies and they raised questions about the nature of language and how to study it.
The concern for language motivated not only the careful reading of traditional texts, but also increasingly sophisticated philological studies into the meaning of ancient Chinese words.
Inspired by detailed Chinese glossaries of key terms, Japanese Confucian scholars argued among themselves about the correct understanding of central ideas by doing their own exegeses of texts and etymological or philological discussions.
As for philological methodology, again we find a range of opinion. Should we take a detached, scientific approach that analyzes the occurrences of words simply in their own contexts as objectively as possible?
Or should we try to engage them so that they become our language and we can write or even speak in the style of the most ancient Chinese prose and poetry?
How can we best understand language: with the detachment of a philologist or with the engagement of a poet?
The philosophers of language in Edo-period Confucianism debated such issues. The emphasis on ancient texts, language, and meanings inspired another group of scholars to pursue an entirely different direction.
The blatant sinophilia of some of the Japanese Confucians vexed those Japanese who wanted to deepen the appreciation of their own ancient language and texts.
The oldest Japanese texts such as Kojiki had been written in the eighth century, before an effective orthography for Japanese had been fully developed.
As a result, many parts of those most ancient texts were nearly unintelligible to later readers.
Philologists and literary critics in a movement called Native Studies kokugaku took up the task of breaking the code by discovering, for example, that ancient Japanese had vowel sounds that soon dropped out of use by the time the orthography had been standardized.
That helped account for many apparent discrepancies and allowed for insights into ancient expressions. See the entry on The Kokugaku School.
In the early ninth century esoteric Buddhism supplied the philosophical underpinnings for what was, in effect, a quite similar view of reality as a field of interdependent, internally related events that are always in flux.
That is roughly how the situation stood for much of the medieval period with one notable exception. For a creation or cosmogonic theory formulated in diachronic time, the point is clear enough.
What comes first creates what comes next and hence the latter is ontologically dependent on the former.
The remarkable point is that this claim, so common in Abrahamic theories of genesis as well as most classical Greco-Roman cosmogonies, seems to have been mostly unargued in Japan before the medieval period, primarily because Buddhism and Confucianism place little importance in their philosophies on creation myths.
Buddhism in particular favors a cyclical rather than linear theory of cosmic time and, therefore, in claiming the ontological superiority of buddhas over their manifestations as kami, the argument was based on a metaphysical or logical argument, not an appeal to a chronology of creation.
Certainly, we find that emphasis in Native Studies, in both its early philological and literary project as well as in its focus on Kojiki.
That language was understood to consist of word-things koto imbued with the creation of the spirit of ancient Japan yamato no damashii.
See the entry on The Kokugaku School, section 3. For example, Jiun Sonja — was a Shingon monk whose career ran counter to the typical pattern in Edo Japan in that he was first a Confucian and then became a Buddhist.
That inspired Jiun to investigate the roots of Buddhism, but in that case the relevant texts were in Sanskrit, a language barely studied in Japan at the time.
Based on his research, Jiun argued for a new form of monasticism based on what he understood to be the original principles of Buddhism that preceded and transcended the various sectarian forms of Buddhism known in Japan.
Thus, Jiun represents yet another example of an Edo-period thinker who used philology as a means of unearthing the origins and philosophical principles of a tradition—in his case Buddhism—in much the same way as his contemporaries did in Native and Confucian Studies.
By contrast, Jiun pointed out, the Confucian virtues derived from a blind acceptance of texts claiming that the ancient Chinese sages had lived in a utopian society of harmony.
In other words, Buddhist ethics emerge from an analysis based in the engagement with immanent reality, whereas Confucian ethics are based in the detached study of texts considered authoritative.
As sinophilia increased among Rinzai Zen monks in the later medieval and Edo periods, many Rinzai monasteries became centers for practicing the arts and letters, much in the tradition of the Chinese literati and often to the neglect of traditional Zen disciplines.
Occasionally, Rinzai masters like Hakuin Ekaku — reacted against this development and urged a revival of intense and rigorous forms of praxis.
One teaching that would have important ramifications for later events was an increasing emphasis on death as a theme. Of course, the former occurs only at the moment of battle and the latter should be a mentality of egoless engagement within all the events of everyday life.
By convention the modern period in Japan is considered to have begun with the demise of the Tokugawa shogunate and the formal restoration of the emperor to power in and continues until today.
Although a smattering of information about the West had trickled into Japan during its period of closure starting in , the intelligentsia were shocked at how far Japan had fallen behind technologically.
Forced to accept severely unfavorable trade agreements first with the United States and then Britain and Russia, Japan realized that it had to modernize quickly or fall victim to Western imperialism.
That challenge inspired much of the philosophical thinking in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In response, increasing emphasis was placed on the acceptance of Western philosophical theories along with Western technologies and social institutions.
As for utilitarianism, they admired its consequentialist ethics that used an empirically derived cost-benefit analysis to determine what would bring maximum happiness or pleasure for society as a whole.
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